Until a treatment is found defense against Covid-19 depends on individuals taking personal responsibility to protect themselves and others around them. This article is meant to address how to do this. There are many unknowns about transmission, but it appears to be via air and touch. My approach describes the theory about transmission and the methods to reduce the risk.
The guiding principle of this article is mitigation of risk. There is no such thing as zero risk. There are only varying degrees of risk. Understanding how to minimize risk is the best defense against getting sick. Think of the lines of defense like layers of an onion.
- There are two factors that minimize or increase airborne risk of contracting Covid-19 virus - exposure time and concentration.
- Similar to drinking alcohol. If you drink the same amount of alcohol but they are different proofs (% alcohol). You will get drunk faster, the higher the alcohol proof. Higher concentrations of the virus increase your risk of contracting the disease.
- Exposure time correlates with the volume of air you inhale. The greater exposure time, the greater the risk of contraction.
- When someone coughs or sneezes, they are probably exhaling droplets with a high concentration of virus when infected. However, even breathing releases the virus from infected people. Talking releases even more. Exercising releases more. Loud talking increases the amount released over normal speech.
- Social distancing is recommended to lower the risk and dilute the virus in the air. However, it does not eliminate it. The greater the distance the better. No contact with others is the best unless they have been tested unless you know they are not carriers. Think about the spaces you enter. If it is a closed area that gets public traffic, then the risk is increased. Wear a mask to protect yourself and others.
- Airborne contraction goes directly to the lungs, making it more likely that you will need oxygen support and maybe put on a ventilator (which increases risk of death). One report stated that prior to Covid-19 people put on ventilators died less that 30% of the time. People with Covid-19 put on ventilators die more than 65% of the time. Just as disturbing is that people put on ventilators require sedation and may need to be that way for weeks. This is both traumatizing and can cause loss of mental faculties with recovery times lasting weeks and months afterwards.
- There three factors that minimize or increase the risk of touch - surface area, exposure time and concentration.
- It is best to avoid touching any surface that is not clean and sterilized.
- Second best is to minimize the number of times potentially contaminated surfaces are touched.
- If you must touch something like an elevator button, use a tool with a sharp point (toothpick or golf tee) or a disposable glove or tissue. Protect the skin from exposure.
- Although not confirmed, it appears that once you touch an exposed surface you then have to transmit the virus through nose, mouth or eyes to contract the disease. The fluids in these may create the environment for the virus to replicate and travel through the body. This is why it is recommended that you wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. It breaks the transmission route for contracting the disease.
- Especially in a public area you have to be very careful what you touch.
- Ask yourself how many people might have touched the things you are about to touch. Money exchanges hands frequently. Think about groceries, someone valeting your car and the mail.
- Disinfect packaging materials before you touch them. Do it before you bring them into your home. This begs the question how long does the virus last on different surfaces. That would depend on the conditions and environment that the item was exposed. Assuming that this will protect you is like hoping for the best, but you don’t know. Better to assume it is contaminated, handle cautiously and disinfect.
Internal transport and treatment
- Once the virus has entered the body it will migrate (pathogenic mechanism) through the body via blood or the air ducts/lungs. The body’s defense mechanism will kick in depending on your underlying health. On a cellular level the different viruses reproduce in different ways and in different environments. There is plenty of speculation about circumstances of spread within the body but there is no definitive understanding at this time. Probably varies by the variations between viruses.
- A vaccine is the next line of defense once you have been exposed to a virus. A vaccine may prevent you from getting sick or just minimize the impact of the virus, how sick you get. There is an indication that Covid-19 does not mutate very much. New vaccines need to be developed every time a virus mutates. If Covid-19 doesn’t mutate then a single vaccine might only be needed every several years. Currently there is no vaccine for Covid-19.
- A treatment would minimize the effect that virus has on you or completely eradicates it. The HIV virus is contained with drug treatments but does not eradicate it. Hopefully one day they will develop a drug to wipe it out. There is a complete cure for Hepatitis C. Currently there is no treatment or cure for Covid-19.
There are obvious pressures to restart the economy. Social distancing is the primary defense we have. Why? Because we cannot trust everyone to follow all the measures described above. Children can’t be expected to understand or follow these measures. Older people may not be unable to follow these measures for various reasons and they are a very vulnerable group due to underlying health conditions. The people in the middle vary widely in their sanitary habits.
Everyone is suffering from the isolation of social distancing and it has had a tremendous economic impact. The issue is holistic. If everyone stayed locked in for 3-4 weeks, then the virus would peak and go down rapidly. However, if different regions enforce lock down at different times then it will roll slowly through the regions and last longer, causing more deaths. Think of this analogy. An apartment building sprays for cockroaches except some apartments refuse to let them spray. The roaches run to the unsprayed apartments when the spraying occurs. Soon after the roaches re-infect the building. Until there is enough testing AND tracing of infected people then we cannot get ahead of a virus like this. That is the real answer but until then we are left with a 16th century solution, lock everyone up.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. My background is as a chemical engineer that was responsible for the safe handling of very hazardous chemicals. There are obvious similarities between the health effects of hazardous chemicals and infectious diseases and some major differences. The provided information is intended to add context to the discussion “why” you should take preventative measures to protect yourself and others. This is not a comprehensive “How-to” guide. It is your responsibility to determine the best methods to protect yourself. The information about this virus is evolving. Refer to the website CDC.gov for additional and updated information.